Get Up and Pray! (Luke 22:39-46)

The Garden of Gethsemane by He Qi

Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.

When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. “Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” (New International Version)

The prayer of Jesus and the sleeping of his disciples presents a contrast of approach when severe stress is upon us.

The Prayer of Jesus

Christ’s prayer expresses the tension all devout persons face: expressing our own wishes while seeking to submit to the Father’s wishes.

However, what is not the same, between our own prayers and the prayers of Jesus, is that we too often believe that if we are intense, wordy, and insistent enough with God, that our prayers will be answered.

While only feigning a few words about God’s will, we put our real efforts into lawyer-like presentations of why the Lord should answer our prayers in the way we want them answered.

Thus, prayer can too easily become a willful imperative that God grant our demands based in a very limited understanding of the big picture.

There is a big difference between willfulness and willingness. We must embrace the latter and eschew the former.

Jesus clearly stated exactly what he wanted: to have this terrible suffering, especially the pain about to be experienced, taken from him. Yet, he asks this with a willingness to accept the Father’s will for his life. Although an angel comes to bring comfort and strength, Christ’s request was denied. And Jesus was good with that.

We can, following the example of Jesus, unashamedly express our anguish, while at the same time, accepting God’s will for us, no matter what it may be.

Christ in Gethsemane by Michael O’Brien

It was God’s will for Jesus to suffer. And Christ not only suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross; Jesus experienced the full range of human suffering throughout his life. He knew what it felt like to face continual adversity and hardship. 

The suffering of Christ helps us make sense of our own suffering. We can only truly be free from our stubborn expectations by embracing that which makes us suffer. 

Some suffer through the death of a loved one; some through cancer or a serious health issue; other believers right now throughout the world are suffering due to grinding poverty and la ack of food and clean water; many others suffer through violence done to them or their families.

Because of this reality, some of us may not even express our anguish to God in prayer. After all, what is a harshly worded e-mail, or trying to lose a few extra pounds, or an unexpected car repair, compared to starving children in the world? 

It’s good to keep our life situations in proper perspective, but it is also not good to tell God what he should and shouldn’t care about in this world. 

If the only things that matter and qualify as hardship and difficulty is human trafficking or the terrors of war, then you will soon find yourself plastering a smile on your face and nodding over-enthusiastically whenever someone asks you how you are doing…. Good grief…. I find chronically happy Christians to be insufferable (pun intended).

The sufferings of Christ qualified him to be a compassionate high priest, able to help us (Hebrews 2:5-18). A priest is one who stands in between the person and God, making things right with God. Christians possess a union with Jesus Christ because of his suffering, death, and resurrection. He is our champion. He stands with us in our suffering and temptations.    

The Sleep of the Disciples

Even though their Lord told them to pray, the disciples nod-off in a stress-induced sleep. Jesus wanted them to remain awake, and he was talking of more than just physical alertness. The disciples needed to keep watch so that they didn’t fall into temptation.

Throughout his earthly ministry, Jesus had been warning them that his cross will lead to their own cross to bear. They, too, will have times of trial, so intense that it will be emotionally and spiritually overwhelming. Christ desired the disciples to follow his own example of offering anguished prayer which is thoroughly submissive to God.

So, our great task is to get up and pray!

Get up and pray so that no temptation can overtake you! (1 Corinthians 10:13)

Get up and pray so that you can endure hardship! (Hebrews 12:7)

Get up and pray for the enemies who persecute you so that you may be children of your Father in heaven! (Matthew 5:44-45)

Get up and pray so that you can encourage others and build them up in the faith! (1 Thessalonians 5:10-11)

Get up and pray so that you can be joyful in hope and patient in affliction! (Romans 12:12)

Get up and pray so that you may have peace in this world of trouble! (John 16:33)

Get up and pray so that you can submit to God and resist the devil! (James 4:7)

Get up and pray so that you will not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good! (Romans 12:11)

Get up and pray so that you can submit to one another out of reverence for Christ! (Ephesians 5:21)

Get up and pray so that you can be the salt of the earth and the light of the world! (Matthew 5:13-16)

Get up and pray so that you can proclaim that the kingdom of God is near! (Matthew 10:7)

Get up and pray so that you can preach the Word with great patience and careful instruction! (2 Timothy 4:1-2)

Get up and pray so that you can have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. (Hebrews 13:17)

Get up and pray!…

Romans 7:14-25 – Our Existential Angst

We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
 
So, I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
 
So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin. (New International Version)
 
We can relate to the Apostle Paul. We, along with him, have many times said to ourselves, “I don’t understand why I act the way I do. I don’t do what I know is right. I do the things I hate.” 
 
Paul’s existential angst is a timeless description of our common human condition. There are times we seem completely unable to follow our conscience and do what’s right. It can be maddening, even to the point of experiencing a continual low-level discouragement and/or depression which underlies almost everything we do.
 
The prescription for dealing with this mental, emotional, and spiritual malady does not include the law. That’s right. Putting our willpower and effort into obeying commands gets us nowhere. Even if we obey laws and rules and commands for a time, our efforts eventually break down. We fail to do what we want and do just the opposite.
 
The law isn’t bad. It just doesn’t have the capacity to transform us. The law’s purpose is to show us how bad off we really are in this world, to give us an awareness of our true condition so that we will seek help. 
 
We humans are a bundle of contradictions, doing good, then bad, and flip-flopping back and forth – all with great frustration.
 
In our abject misery, what then, shall we do? Who will help us? Is there anyone to save us from our plight?
 
Sheer willpower and obedience will not help us; it won’t work. It will only give us a false hope. Any success in using such willpower only deludes one into believing they have the answer… until they yet fall again into the abyss of their own inner darkness.
 
The good news is that there is a Savior, a Redeemer, a Rescuer who has the will and the power to deliver us from our predicament.
 
The grace of God in Christ is the operative power that changes lives, not the law. Freedom from the tyranny of our “should’s” and our misplaced desires comes from Christ’s forgiveness through the cross. 
 
Like a lover enamored with his beloved, our desires become oriented toward Jesus for his indescribable gift to us. That is the strength of grace. Transformation is relational; it is found in a person, not a program. And the only person and relationship which has the ability to change us is, I believe with all my heart and mind, the Lord Jesus Christ.
 
Why? Because I myself have been transformed and changed by such a relationship with Christ. I, along with the hymn writer John Newton, can say, “I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.”
 
“Self-help” for all the good it really can do, is in many ways an oxymoron. There is no Bible verse which states that God helps those who help themselves.
 
Yes, we have an incredible capacity for good and vast internal resources within us which we lack awareness of for which we can tap into. Yet, when it comes to an outright metamorphosis, we need a new heart – and we can no more simply decide to change our lives any more than we can perform heart transplant surgery on ourselves.
 
People need the Lord.
 
Whenever the foundation of a house is about to crumble, it won’t do to rearrange the living room furniture and do a bit of spruce up painting. And we deceive ourselves if we believe that all our efforts at landscaping the property and having a great curb appeal will do the trick.
 
If the foundation crumbles, the house implodes, and nothing else will matter.
 
Jesus is our cornerstone. Without him, we are at risk, about to fall and without hope. With him, true restoration and renewal happens. And then, when the house is repaired and in order, we set about the task of being good stewards and maintaining and caring for the wonderful changes which were made.
 
If we want freedom from self-loathing and to experience peace and contentment, calmness and confidence, satisfaction and settled peace, then we will grow ever closer to the Savior who exudes all those qualities, and more.
 
For the Lord not only saves and delivers; he also sanctifies and encourages. And the existential angst becomes forgotten.
 
Saving God, I thank you for delivering me from sin, death, and hell through your Son, the Lord Jesus. May your Holy Spirit apply the work of grace to my life every day so that I can realize practical freedom from all that is damaging and destructive in my soul. Amen.

Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20 – I and Thou

I pray to you, Lord God,
    and I beg you to listen.
In days filled with trouble,
    I search for you.
And at night I tirelessly
lift my hands in prayer,
    refusing comfort…

Our Lord, I will remember
the things you have done,
    your miracles of long ago.
I will think about each one
    of your mighty deeds.
Everything you do is right,
and no other god
    compares with you.
You alone work miracles,
and you have let nations
    see your mighty power.
With your own arm you rescued
your people, the descendants
    of Jacob and Joseph.

The ocean looked at you, God,
and it trembled deep down
    with fear.
Water flowed from the clouds.
    Thunder was heard above
as your arrows of lightning
    flashed about.
Your thunder roared
    like chariot wheels.
The world was made bright
by lightning,
    and all the earth trembled.

You walked through the water
    of the mighty sea,
but your footprints
    were never seen.
You guided your people
    like a flock of sheep,
and you chose Moses and Aaron
    to be their leaders. (Contemporary English Version)

“A person becomes whole not in virtue of a relation to oneself only, but rather in virtue of an authentic relation to another.”

Martin Buber

We all have experienced what it means to be in distress. Whether it is physical pain, financial stress, mental agony, spiritual duress, or emotional overwhelm, the feeling of being distressed is inevitably a part of the human condition.

Questions abound whenever we are in throes of distress: What do I do? How do I cope? From where does my help come? Is there hope? Will this ever go away? Why is this happening?

We don’t know what the psalmist’s distress was, but he was in trouble up to his eyeballs and as anxious as can be. His feeling of being trapped and caught between a rock and hard place was palpable. So, he looked for deliverance.

In 1937, the Jewish philosopher, Martin Buber wrote an insightful book entitled “I and Thou.” Buber postulated how people exist in the world and how they actualize that existence. We engage the world through both monologue and dialogue. For Buber, “all real living is meeting.” In other words, to exist, to live, is to encounter another and relate to a “Thou.” We only have meaning in relationships. We only have our being in God.

The psalmist acknowledges there is a “Thou” besides his distressed “I” – that this Thou will hear, make a difference, and open a way of deliverance. There are four actions the psalmist decides to do in his distress, actions which put him in a vital dialogue with the divine “Thou.”

I pray

Prayer, at its heart, is a dialogue with God. From the place of our spiritual poverty and bankruptcy, we beg; and God gives us the kingdom. To be a spiritual beggar, pleading for our needs to be met, knowing we have no way to repay, is a posture which God delights in.

Great blessings belong to those who know they are spiritually in need. God’s kingdom belongs to them. (Matthew 5:3, ERV)

You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule. (Matthew 5:3, MSG)

I Search

In the I and Thou relationship, the search works both ways.

You have searched me, Lord,
    and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways….

Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:1-2, 23-24, NIV)

Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. (Matthew 7:7-8, NRSV)

I Remember

The psalmist intentionally sought to recall the mighty works of God, especially in delivering the people from slavery and bringing them to the Promised Land. In our forgetfulness, we get lost in our troubles and our perspective becomes skewed. We cannot see beyond the end of our nose. Remembering, however, grants us a fuller picture of what is happening in light of the past. It brings us out of the lonely “I” and into the relationship of “I and Thou.”

Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering. 

Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. 

So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.

You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. (Hebrews 10:32-36, NIV)

I Meditate

Pondering and thinking upon God’s deeds enables praise to arise from us. It fosters the I and Thou relationship, bolstering and buoying our faith through life-events which produce our distress.

I lie awake thinking of you,
    meditating on you through the night.
Because you are my helper,
    I sing for joy in the shadow of your wings. (Psalm 63:6-7, NLT)

Thou Art Worthy

The psalm ends with no resolution to the personal distress of the psalmist.

Whether there is a happy ending, or not, isn’t the point. It’s the process, the journey of moving through our troubles and discovering lessons from both the presence and the absence of God, which makes all the difference. We learn to pray, search, remember, and meditate because of and despite our troubles. We learn to relate to God and proclaim that Thou art worthy.

Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created. (Revelation 4:11, KJV)

Amen.

Psalm 56 – In God We Trust

Have pity, God Most High!
    My enemies chase me all day.
Many of them are pursuing
    and attacking me,
    but even when I am afraid,
    I keep on trusting you.
I praise your promises!
I trust you and am not afraid.
    No one can harm me.

Enemies spend the whole day
    finding fault with me;
    all they think about
    is how to do me harm.
They attack from ambush,
    watching my every step
    and hoping to kill me.
They won’t get away
    with these crimes, God,
    because when you get angry,
    you destroy people.

You have kept record
    of my days of wandering.
You have stored my tears
in your bottle
    and counted each of them.

When I pray, Lord God,
    my enemies will retreat,
    because I know for certain
    that you are with me.
I praise your promises!
I trust you and am not afraid.
    No one can harm me.

I will keep my promises
to you, my God,
    and bring you gifts.
You protected me from death
    and kept me from stumbling,
so that I would please you
    and follow the light
    that leads to life. (Contemporary English Version)

We all have enemies and opposition of both body and soul. It’s just part of the human condition on this fallen planet to experience forces oppressing us.

David’s enemies were real flesh and blood people. The Philistines and the Israelites were always at odds with each other. Wars and battles continually broke out amongst them. Dealing with enemies was, and always has been, a constant reality of the Jewish people.

As for us Gentiles, we may or may not have a person seeking to take our life. Yet, no matter who we are, we all deal with our own visible and invisible enemies which wage war against our souls.

The psalmist expresses a way of coping with the intense stress of opposition: Trust in God.

Yes, the bedrock issue whenever we face our demons within and without is trust. In whom or what will we put our trust?

If we have a philosophy of watching out for number one, then we merely look to ourselves and our own independence. Yet, since humanity is hard-wired for community, radical autonomy hits its limit rather quickly. Thus, we are left vulnerable to our enemies with no means of security.

If we put our trust in education, then we will focus efforts on mental solutions, coming up with ideas to deal with our enemies. However, since our very personhood is much more than a brain, this too shall eventually meet its limits with our stressful situation.

If we possess a strong Protestant work ethic, we may put all our energy into working harder, better, and faster to overcome our enemies. But subscribing to a philosophy of outworking everyone fails when our bodies break trying to keep ahead of the stress.

We must account for the transcendent, for that which is over and above all. We must trust in the Lord.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
    don’t rely on your own intelligence.
Know him in all your paths,
    and he will keep your ways straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6, CEB

To trust means to live consistent with the reality that we are in the Lord’s hands. Our ultimate protection is divine, not human. Not realizing we are in the grip of the Almighty only causes fear, anxiety, and the frenetic search to get out from under our enemy’s oppression.

When all is said and done, our hard circumstances point us to the hard realization that we are not in control of the universe – and not even the people standing right in front of us. Attempting to control others is called manipulation. And, I might add, is something that never ends well. We are only in control of ourselves, and even then, if our primary enemy is within, we can rarely even manage our own lives.

Deciding about whom or what we will trust is the existential basis of living. Hardship, stress, and fear in the teeth of enemy opposition calls for trust. Without faith, we will be swallowed alive.

Faith and trust is not only personal; it’s communal. The entire community of believers are to affirm together that God is with us, and that in Jesus Christ, there is no fear; there is security.

If God is for us, no one can stand against us. And God is with us. He even let his own Son suffer for us. God gave his Son for all of us. So now with Jesus, God will surely give us all things. Who can accuse the people God has chosen? No one! God is the one who makes them right. Who can say that God’s people are guilty? No one! Christ Jesus died for us, but that is not all. He was also raised from death. And now he is at God’s right side, speaking to him for us. Can anything separate us from Christ’s love? Can trouble or problems or persecution separate us from his love? If we have no food or clothes or face danger or even death, will that separate us from his love? As the Scriptures say,

“For you we are in danger of death all the time.
    People think we are worth no more than sheep to be killed.”

But in all these troubles we have complete victory through God, who has shown his love for us. Yes, I am sure that nothing can separate us from God’s love—not death, life, angels, or ruling spirits. I am sure that nothing now, nothing in the future, no powers, nothing above us or nothing below us—nothing in the whole created world—will ever be able to separate us from the love God has shown us in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39, ERV)

There is a way through the thicket of hate from others. It is to trust in the Lord with all our heart, to have the unshakable faith that the Lord is with us, to know we are ultimately in God’s gracious hands.

O God, the Creator of all, whose Son commanded us to love our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth; deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you in Jesus Christ; in whose Name we pray. Amen.